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Australia officially free of equine influenza.

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The Hon. Tony Burke MP Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Australia officially free of equine influenza 29 June 2008 DAFF08/081B

Australia will tomorrow be declared officially free from equine influenza - making it one of the few countries in the world to eradicate the disease.

The last detected incidence of equine influenza was on 25 December last year and extensive monitoring since has not found any new cases.

Coordinated surveillance and testing over the last six months has included nearly 79,000 laboratory tests in NSW and Queensland alone and the reporting of nearly 600 suspect premises, which were then cleared.

Mr Burke said the remaining emergency requirement - that people notify authorities of their intention to move horses or hold an event - could now be lifted. However, most jurisdictions still require horse events to be registered.

The declaration will also be important for on-going negotiations with New Zealand which still requires horses entering from Australia to remain in quarantine for five weeks.

To satisfy World Animal Health Organization requirements, Australia will maintain an effective surveillance system for equine influenza until the end of 2008.

“This is a major achievement for Australia and a testament to the cooperation of horse owners, veterinary authorities and the state and federal governments in those difficult months,” Mr Burke said.

“We will never know the full cost of the disease outbreak, but this declaration is a major milestone in the road to recovery.

“Australia adopted tough measures to try to eradicate the disease, including a complete lock-down on horse movements in NSW and Queensland.

“It was devastating for everyone affected, including horse owners, jockeys, farriers, caterers and fashion outlets, but people realised the scale of the emergency required a radical response.”

Australia had learnt from the outbreak and was better prepared to deal with future emergencies, Mr Burke said.

Initial changes were made to Australia’s horse quarantine arrangements after the August 2007 incident and the Government this month accepted all 38 recommendations from the Callinan Inquiry report on the outbreak.

Since the report was released, the Minister has received recommendations from the Public Service Commissioner on the conduct of some staff named in the report and others who were not named.

That report has been forwarded to the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry for his immediate attention.

A new animal quarantine branch has been established in the Department, led by a senior executive now primarily responsible and accountable for the importation of horses into Australia.

A national equine influenza vaccine bank has also been established and arrangements will be made to allow the rapid deployment of a vaccine in the event of any future emergency.

Current legal approvals to use the vaccine to control the disease were only given in the context of an emergency, so they lapse with tomorrow’s declaration that the emergency is over.

Applications for the ongoing use of a vaccine would have to follow the standard scientific process, including approval by the independent regulator the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority and possibly a number of other bodies.

Horse industry groups are meeting later this year to discuss how to deal with any possible future horse flu outbreak.